As the southern residents are visiting Puget Sound today, I’m inspired to learn a bit more about chum and where to view the fall runs.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has some good background information in their section on Chum Salmon Stories. Of particular import to the southern residents is the fact that Chum salmon are the most abundant salmon species in Washington State. In “Respect” Jim Aimes writes points out that recent chum runs are about has good as they have ever been, in contrast to the declines experienced many Puget Sound chinook and coho populations:
If we consider only naturally produced fish, the most abundant salmon in Washington State are chum salmon. In case you missed that – chum salmon are the most abundant wild salmon in our state! This is probably the best kept “secret” in the salmon business. In the five-year period 1994-1998, over 6.5 million wild chum salmon returned to Washington waters. Of that total, approximately 6.2 million wild chum returned to Puget Sound and over 300,000 were destined for coastal streams. Given the very real problems faced by wild fish and the recent tales about the supposed imminent demise of all wild salmon, these chum returns are pretty remarkable.
Chum salmon are also very successful at a number of hatcheries, although they seldom receive the emphasis provided to chinook and coho salmon. The majority of hatchery chum programs are located in the Puget Sound region; producing fish from WDFW, tribal, and federal facilities. The return of hatchery-origin chum for the above 5 years (1994-1998) was nearly 2.6 million fish. Combine the wild and hatchery returns for those 5 years and the total is over 9 million fish, or an average annual return of more than 1.8 million chum.
For guidance on how to view these fantastic fish, here is a blurb from WDFW with a link to the Piper’s Creek (Carkeek Park) population:
Various chum salmon stocks spawn in Washington streams from August through March. The duration of spawning for individual streams, however, is typically much shorter; usually one to two months. The best time to view chum salmon in local streams is November and December, when the large runs of fall chum are spawning.
There are a number of visitor-friendly locations where chum salmon spawning (both wild and hatchery fish) can be observed. This page will identify a number of these locations, and will provide travel information and the best season for chum salmon viewing. The initial location will be the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail in the Olympia area, with more locations to be added in the near future.
And here is a nice piece on the fall chum runs of the Kitsap Peninsula and Chico Creek in particular by Chris Dunagan.